If you have a look into your favorite playlists and try to find songs in minor keys – it's amazing how you'll quickly realize that the task isn't so easy.
Especially if you like listening more to music on the older side, (like many guitar lovers, as I find that most of the guitar classics tend to be older songs) since as recent studies show – in the 60s, no less than 85 percent of the songs were written in major keys.
This has apparently changed throughout the years, and the studies show that today it's actually the opposite, and most of the popular songs are actually in minor keys. (60% to be precise)
Anyways, let's jump into it with 15 songs in minor keys which I find to be extremely fun to play (and also – challenging at the right amount if you're really trying to get them to sound like the original).
The 15 Most Fun Guitar Songs In Minor Keys
Jack Johnson – Sitting, Waiting, Wishing (Chords)
One of the most fun-to-play folky-rocky songs that I know on the guitar, with a lot of barre chords and mutes involved that gives it a very rhythmic feeling.
3 fun facts about this hit from Jack Johnson's classic 2005 album In Between Dreams:
- It was nominated for a Grammy in the “best male pop vocal performance” category.
- The music video was filmed backwards. (if you'll watch it – you'll see what I mean, since I know it seems funny to try and understand it)
- Here is the story of the song's inspiration, in Jack's own words from a “Honolulu Advertiser” interview: “A friend of mine was trying to get this girl named Michelle,” said Johnson, “and I tried to write a song that would help him have a laugh at himself because he was spending so much time trying to get her and it obviously wasn't leading anywhere. That was one just to cheer up a friend.”
Jimi Hendrix – Little Wing (Chords)
While of course playing the famous intro section like Hendrix is a very big challenge that many guitarists try to take on, I find that also simply playing the chords of the verses is lots of fun.
It's just a great chord progression, and that's especially true when…
… you start adding those famous licks that Hendrix plays there in between the chord transitions.
Practicing these licks yourself can give you some great tricks that you can then add to many other songs that you play. (Especially the slower ones, where there's actually more time to add these)
B.B King – The Thrill Is Gone (Chords)
Let's get bluesy.
The fun thing about this one is that you have two different guitar parts to work on.
First of all, you have the rhythm part – which consists of this famous riff that goes on and on. Learning how to play that riff with the right feeling and with a solid rhythm would give your blues chops a great boost – since you can use it (or variations of it) on a lot of other blues progressions that you'll play.
And then, of course, you also have the legendary solo.
And I believe that learning even just one solo that came out of the hands of B.B King (and really learning how to play it as close as possible to the original version) would tremendously help you develop your feel for any other sort of guitar soloing you'll ever do.
It's simply a masterclass on conveying emotion through the notes of the guitar.
João Gilberto / Tom Jobim – Chega De Saudade (Chords) (This is one of Brazil's biggest bossa nova songs)
I know this would be an unfamiliar song to many reading this, so hear me out.
I also never heard this song until several years ago. I checked it out only after meeting a Brazilian guy who, upon hearing that I'm a musician, gave me a list with names of some of the biggest classics of Brazilian music and told me I had to check out these songs.
The next day at home I opened the list, and put “Chega De Saudade” on YouTube, and 10 seconds after listening to it – I knew I'm now a big fan of Brazilian music. (since then – my love for it has just grown and I've discovered many more Brazilian songs that I absolutely love)
There's a certain very special feeling that you can hear here, and the chord progression, the chords themselves, and the rhythm (bossa nova) are all extremely colorful.
So learning how to play it will literally open up a new world of sounds for you on the guitar. Check it out, and if you enjoy the sound – give it a try and learn how to play this classic!
Rolling Stones – Angie (Chords)
If you're a fan of this song, I challenge you to grab a pick and to try and reproduce it as close as you can to the original.
It's such a great ballad for learning about the proper use of a pick when conveying those sad feelings through the guitar.
“When will it lead us from here”…
System of a Down – Chop Suey (Tabs)
If you were never a metal guy but you want to dip your feet into the very different playing style of this type of music – here's a cool place to do it.
You'll see that if you learn it, it's a lot more based on tabs and on very specific notes that you want to hit, over the regular way of learning through chords. (and then maybe using tabs for some extra help)
I find that this is a song that's loved also by many people whose this is pretty much the only metal song that they've loved. (and I'm pretty sure you'd be hard-pressed to find another metal song that has 1.1 billion views on YouTube)
Billy Joel – Vienna (Chords)
My favorite Billy Joel song, and although this is originally a piano song, I think it works fabulously on the guitar as well.
There's actually one specific, extremely beautiful guitar cover that I've found of this song two years ago which inspired me to regularly start playing it on the guitar. (I've been searching fot it now for 20 minutes and cannot find it, unfortunately)
So get into these emotions of the song, grab a hard pick, and start strumming. It's very likely that if there are some people around you – they'll start singing (and getting emotional…) with you. (:
*IMPORTANT NOTE – I highly recommend playing it with a capo on the 3 so you don't have to play it actually in the key of Gm – which involves lots of barre chords and isn't that fun to play. (in order to do it, click three times on the transpose half-step down button in Ultimate Guitar, then you can play it with a capo on the 3rd fret and the chords would be as if it was in the much easier key of Em)
Nina Simone – Feeling Good (Chords)
Not only that this is also a very fun song to play (and sing), but I find that it also has many different versions for how you can play it. (when you look up chords for it you would find many different alternatives, and my favorite is this one I linked to above)
By the way – do you know the version by Muse? I think it's out of this world.
Dr. John – Such a Night (Chords)
Another awesome piano song that also sounds fantastic on the guitar, especially if you work on those bluesy chops.
The sneaky lyrics talk about how he's debating if he's going to “steal” his friend's girlfriend tonight, and I have to say – the song is so good that for a moment he gets you convinced that you should…
Here is my favorite version of it (I find it much more powerful than the original actually) – which is taken from the legendary “The Last Waltz” concert, which was the last concert by The Band in 1976 in San Francisco, where they hosted an insane amount of amazing musicians – and Dr. John was one of them. (along with Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Buddy Guy, etc… you get it)
Kelly Clarkson – Breakway (Chords)
This list wouldn't be complete without a super-popular MTV song in a minor key, and I figured this one would be a great fit since it's also one of the most emotionally powerful songs I know.
(who doesn't get grabbed by that last chorus?…)
It's a relatively simple strumming song to play, with just 3 or 4 chords at most of the sections – so it can also be a great song for beginners.
Fastball – The Way (Chords)
Even if the name of this song (or its band) does not ring a bell, I'm pretty sure that once you hear the chorus you will recognise it.
It is one of the biggest one hit wonders of the late 90s, and I find the chorus melody to be one of the most beautiful & catchy ones that I've heard.
The lyrics have an interesting twist once you know the story behind them:
They talk about a couple that left everything behind and went on a romantic journey towards the sunset…
“Everyone can see the road that they walk on is paved in gold, and it's always summer they'll never get cold”
But in different interviews, Tony Scalzo, who wrote this song, mentioned that the inspiration was actually an elderly couple from Texas who went on a summer drive and disappeared, only to be found two weeks later dead in their car.
So the song is a romanticized take on their disappearance story that gives it a happier ending.
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (Chords)
If you haven't tried playing it before (which is unlikely) – so give it a try. Why?
Because I believe it's one of the best songs to learn the basics of arpeggio picking. Arpeggio – when you pick the strings individually instead of strumming the chords. And this song actually has a mix between the two techniques because it's a very fast type of arpeggio which almost feels like strumming.
And if you are a really brave person…
Try to sing it as well! Since this song, and especially the chorus, demands one of the biggest vocal ranges possible if you don't want your voice to crash and burn in front of everyone (;
Which still doesn't prevent it from being such a huge sing-along in most gatherings where you'll start playing it…
Queen – Another One Bites the Dust (Chords)
Similar to Chop Suey (but also very different) – this is a song that is very based on playing it by using tabs instead of by using chords, since the famous guitar part here is essentially a single-notes line.
So something else which makes it fun to actually play such a song without feeling lame (since a single notes line can sound pretty odd by itself) is to play it along with the original song playing out of some nice speakers.
(Which is, by the way, also a great way to practice your sense of rhythm and your “playing-in-a-band” skills, when you have the original drums to lay down the rhythm for you)
Jimi Hendrix – All Along the Watchtower (Chords)
Funnily enough, if you choose to only play this song using the rhythm part with nothing but the chords (and without the lead licks that Hendrix adds there) – it really reminds me of the much simpler “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” by Jack Johnson from the beginning of the list.
Not very surprising considering that I've read in many interviews that one of Jack Johnson's biggest early influences was Jimi Hendrix.
Anyways, this legendary Bob Dylan cover shines here on Jimi's guitar and gives you loads of stuff to practice, especially if you also go for learning the famous solo.
Also, as previously mentioned in the Little Wing section, learning the licks that Hendrix is playing between the chords is also going to give you a lot of tools to add to other songs that you play – and this time it's more challenging since the tempo here is much higher than Little Wing's tempo.
Pink Floyd – Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Chords)
This 26 minute psychedelic masterpiece from 1975, and Roger Waters solos and arpeggiated rhythm parts – give you enough to learn for months and months.
It was written about Syd Barrett, one of the founding members of the band who was pushed out of it in 1968 due to his drug use and mental health issues. (Shine On You Crazy Diamond)
The story behind the song, the inspiration for it, and its recording – is pretty vast and also very interesting as you can imagine, so if you want to read more I encourage you to google it. Good places to start are its Wikipedia page and its Songfacts page.
It's interesting that actually one of my favorite Israeli rock songs is another dark song which you can clearly hear how deeply influenced it is from Shine On Your Crazy Diamond. If you're curious, you can listen to it right here: החברים של נטאשה – פרדי על הבוקר
The Guitar Campfire Songbook
I hope this list has given you some great ideas, and if you want to have another bunch of song ideas in a fancy PDF songbook form, then feel free to download the songbook in this link.
You'll find more details about the songbook underneath these two pictures (and don't worry, there's a lot more to it than Hallelujah and Wonderwall, you'd be delighted.)